Unanswered questions remain in Wittenberg president’s resignation

Laurie Joyner, president since 2012, has resigned from her post, effective today. She and university officials have offered no explanation for her departure.

Board Member Andy Bell declined to comment and referred all questions to board Chairman Thomas Murray, who couldn’t be reached. Joyner didn’t return multiple calls for comment.

Faculty, staff, students and retirees reacted to the news with mixed emotions Thursday. Some said the lack of solid information has led to rumors.

“I’ve heard everything from her being fired to a mutual decision to her being forced out, and I just don’t know which is true,” said Pete Hanson, chairman of the faculty executive board.

That group was given some advance notice that changes were coming last week when they met with two Wittenberg board members.

“We were contacted to inquire if we might be able to meet with them, and at that meeting the board members communicated to us that there was going to be some changes taking place,” he said, but they didn’t give details.

Those changes might have been the result of complaints from faculty members about Joyner’s leadership, communicated in a letter signed by at least 53 faculty members in early October.

Several people who signed the letter said it addressed a pattern of departures from the university.

“It was a letter expressing our concern over personnel turnover in the administration,” said Michael Anes, professor of psychology.

Hanson delivered the letter to the board members prior to a meeting last month when they approved $6.5 million in budget cuts.

“It is my understanding that what was written there is somehow, perhaps, related to the outcome we witnessed yesterday,” he said.

Wendy Kobler, interim vice president for advancement, denied any connection between the letter and Joyner’s departure.

“I’m aware there was a letter presented to the board from the faculty,” Kobler said. “That was much earlier in the month and the two do not have any correlation as far as I know.”

The board unanimously voted on the cuts announced last month, and praised Joyner’s leadership through a difficult process. It responded to the faculty with a letter strongly endorsing the president.

“President Joyner has been wise, dedicated, courageous, compassionate and selfless,” a letter sent to faculty in October said. “While moving us forward through the painful decisions that the current reality requires of us, she has kept Wittenberg faithful and focused on our mission and students.”

The second round of cuts during Joyner’s tenure included the elimination of retiree health and life insurance benefits at the end of 2015 and changes to current employee benefits. Some current and former employees were upset by the changes, announced just three weeks ago.

“I understand that she’s been getting a lot of negative feedback with a lot of the financial situation that’s been going on. So I understand where that could result in a lot of pressure for her,” junior marketing student Leah Markovich said.

She’d heard rumors on campus and on social media this week that Joyner was leaving, but initially dismissed them.

Some students said they weren’t getting enough information. Students received an email this week, sophomore Nicole Fracasso said, but it didn’t really explain why she resigned.

“I feel like as students we deserve to know because we pay to go here,” she said.

People always assume the worst, Fracasso said.

“The board said she resigned. We don’t know,” said Joe O’Connor, a retired history professor.

His impression was that a movement to oust her had developed in a short amount of time, but that hasn’t been confirmed to him by anyone.

“If the board took any action, (I’d be) very surprised that they would do so. But that’s their business. That’s what they’re supposed to do,” O’Connor said.

Joyner also serves on the Chamber of Greater Springfield board. President Michael McDorman said her leadership will be missed in the community.

“Her straight forward problem-solving style has brought a fresh perspective to many of the challenges and opportunities that both Wittenberg and our community are facing,” McDorman said. “We feel she’s helped put Wittenberg on a sustainable path and from a community perspective, we like to say as Wittenberg goes, so our community goes.”

O’Connor said he’d be delighted if the retiree benefit cuts were reversed in the wake of Joyner’s departure, but he doesn’t see that happening.

“The board of directors has already expressed support of those cuts,” Hanson said.

No timeline has been set for choosing a new president.

“Any president in higher education should have the well-being of the students as their primary interest,” Hanson said. “And in order to accomplish that it should be someone who is interested in helping to steward an institution toward a successful track, and I think we’re already on that track.”

The president’s departure doesn’t change the day-to-day work by employees, Anes said.

“We are still the exact same staff … We have more Ohio professors of the year than any other college or university. We have an outstanding record of U.S. Fulbright Scholars, which is an incredibly competitive thing,” he said.

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